Guest column: Walden has championed rural broadband

The Bulletin

C ongressman Greg Walden has been a true champion for rural broadband deployment. His role as chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee in Congress gives him influence in shaping our country’s broadband policy.

The Oregon Broadband Survey conducted by the Oregon Business Development in 2014 placed broadband access in Oregon homes at 82 percent, as compared to 80 percent nationally.

Things have undoubtedly improved in the years since that survey, due, in no small part, to Congressman Walden’s efforts. On Aug. 29, Congressman Walden publicly applauded an announcement from the Federal Communications Commission that Oregon will receive $13.7 million to support rural broadband expansion.

While things are improving, we have a long way to go. You do not need to travel far outside of Bend to find yourself on the wrong side of the digital divide, without broadband access.

Oregonians without broadband access are put at a severe disadvantage in the modern world. Small businesses are not able to communicate as effectively with customers; farmers are not able to use the latest precision agriculture technology; students go without online resources enjoyed by their urban peers and productivity applications like the ones my company develops cannot be utilized.

Droplr is a Bend-based company that was created because we strongly believe that anyone should be able to communicate effectively over a distance, once they have the right tools. Ours is a collaboration app for Windows and Mac that allows users to securely and easily share files, screencasts and screenshots with others thereby enhancing the efficiency and productivity of professionals that use Slack, Sketch, Adobe Creative Suite and other popular tools.

However, Droplr is also a cloud-based app, meaning that our users need a solid internet connection — and anyone on the wrong side of the digital divide is unable to utilize it.

For technology companies like ours, overcoming the digital divide represents an opportunity to expose new professionals to the benefits of our services. The technology scene in Bend is a vibrant one. Allowing rural communities to connect into the internet of things will not only help rural residents, but will help companies like our reach their full potential.

That is why we recently joined Connect Americans Now, a national coalition with over 100 Oregon members that is dedicated to expanding broadband into rural communities. One exciting new tool that CAN has seized upon is called TV white spaces technology, or TVWS.

TVWS uses the vacant spectrum between broadcast television stations to deploy broadband to remote and underserved areas. TVWS are ideal for broadcasting an internet signal because the spectrum can travel further than many existing solutions and operates at a frequency that can move through obstacles such hills and foliage.

Pilot projects across the country are showcasing that the promise of this technology is real. However, in order to make sure that promise reaches all rural communities, the FCC needs to act to ensure that sufficient TV white spaces spectrum is reserved for wireless, unlicensed use. This would allow any local provider to use the spectrum to deliver broadband to rural communities.

Congressman Walden, as a champion of rural broadband expansion, can encourage the FCC to do just that. TVWS will help build the bridge across the digital divide so innovative technologies that rely upon the internet are able to be utilized regardless of geography.

We share Congressman Walden’s goal of connecting all Americans to high-speed broadband and believe that TVWS can help get us achieve it.

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